SECTION ONE: Introduction
Robert D. Lupton, author of Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life, shares a story about an invitation to speak at a local Christian college. During a student discussion, he posed the following question, “What is the number-one mandate for followers of Christ?”
Many students immediately responded by saying, “Evangelize!”. Lupton pushed them deeper by asking, “But what did Christ say was top priority?”
After some silence, someone finally spoke and said, “Make Disciples,” to which Lupton responded, “I know that evangelizing and making disciples is important and I totally agree. But what did Christ actually say was the most important mandate for His followers?”
This was followed by more silence and some puzzled looks among the students. Finally, a brave but hesitant student in the back of the room said, “You mean, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“Is this what He said is number one?” Lupton pressed? There were nods of agreement and another student proclaimed, “On this hang all the law and the prophets.”
“I agree,” Lupton concurred. “That’s how I read it, too. Our Lord called it the greatest command, didn’t He?”. There was consensus among the students and Lupton added, “Given that scripture declares this to be our number-one mandate, then what courses do you have here on neighboring? I know you have an entire department of evangelism. Who teaches Neighboring 101?”.
There was silence as the reality of his question became clear to these students (Lupton, Chpt. 1). There were no courses taught at that Bible college on neighboring. In fact, Lupton went on to discuss how little our churches and Bible colleges train on the value of neighboring.
So who DOES teach Neighboring 101?
At Bethel, our mission is to “Make Disciples.” We believe block parties could be a great “first step” as one component to help in achieving our overall church mission. Would you join us?
This manual is an introduction to one neighboring concept called a “block party.” Block parties are a fun way to get together, meet your neighbors, and engage in shared activities. They are fun, no doubt…but they can and should be purposeful. Block parties are a great evangelistic tool that can be an open door to introducing the gospel to your neighbors. You cannot love your neighbors if you don’t know them. Get out the calendar and plan a “rock the block” party!
SECTION TWO: Planning Your Neighborhood Block Party
Top 10 Reasons to hold a block party
- It puts you (the church) where the lost are
- It’s a chance for you to use your gifts for the Kingdom
- It connects lost people in your neighborhood to the Body of Christ
- It is family-oriented and provides fun and free activities for neighbors to engage
- People like parties
- It’s a free event
- Anyone can do it in their neighborhood
- It increases a sense of belonging when a community of neighbors come together
- It helps neighbors get to know each other and help care for each other
- It puts neighbors on a first-name basis
- Begin by doing a prayer walk around your neighborhood. Invite your small group to join you in this activity! Pray for each neighbor, that God would be working in their family to draw them closer to Himself. Pray for open hearts and a willingness to engage in spiritual conversations. Pray your neighbors would respond to and stop by during the party! Ask God to give you words and wisdom as you engage with those neighbors whom you are lifting in prayer. Ask God to reveal what neighbor He might want you to invest in more strategically.
- The idea of a neighborhood block party is to bring neighbors together and to share the love of Christ. Do you already know 1-2 of your neighbors who might help you with the event? Invite them to join you in planning the party.
- Keep it simple! Try not to go overboard and overwhelm your neighbors. If needed, Bethel will reimburse your family up to $75 to help cover costs of some food or party items. Determine what type of block party would work best in your neighborhood.
- Barbecues (provide the meat and enlist others to bring side foods)
- Picnics (everyone brings their own meal)
- Pot luck (everyone brings one dish)
- Catered (everyone shared the cost and food is purchased)
- Other (carnival theme with carnival foods, a taco bar, etc.)
- In selecting who to invite, use natural neighborhood boundaries where possible (i.e. end of the block, a cul-de-sac, a side street). Note on the invitation that the block party will be restricted to those boundaries.
- Consider what would be the best location to hold the party. A backyard? A driveway? A garage? A park near the block?
- We have an event postcard that you can use to advertise your event. However, if you want to create your own, that is fine too! Use the back to share further details (do they bring their own plates, cutlery and cups? Do they bring their own beverages, etc.?). We’d encourage you institute a bathroom policy “everyone to use his or her own”, so that home security is maintained (that detail should be shared on the back of the postcard). Consider having a few neighbors or neighborhood kids help in distributing the cards.
SECTION THREE: The Party!
- Start the day with prayer. Ask your small group to pray with you for the event! Pray the Lord would be clear about identifying a guest or two that you could engage with after the party.
- Place a banner or yard sign in the front yard to welcome guests (these can be loaned to you for use)
- Act as a greeter at the event. Introduce neighbors to each other or help them make connections
- Nametags are a great help. Put first name and address on the tag to help identify names with houses
- Have garbage cans readily available to minimize clean up and messes
- Consider having a “sign in” sheet to gather names/phone number/address of your neighbors
- Are they willing to be called if a neighbor needs help?
- Would they be interested in joining a neighborhood private Facebook group?
- Event activities:
- Visit and eat
- Have some yard games available (or a few games for kids)
- Help facilitate conversations between neighbors, if needed (easy topics: children, family, sports, travel, where you went to HS/college, hobbies)
- Help oversee the clean-up
- Have your small group support you through food preparation, greeting, and prayer
*insert examples here*
Section Four: Follow-Up
The block party was a success! Neighbors came, you met new folks, and everyone had a great time. Terrific! But now what? Remember what we said earlier: Block parties are a great evangelistic tool that can be an open door to introducing the gospel to your neighbors.
- Pray people pray! Pray about 1-2 neighbors that you can begin to pursue a friendship with, that could be the foundation for sharing the gospel.
- Now that you know the names of your neighbors, prayer walk your neighborhood and pray for them specifically by name!
- Engage the 1-2 neighbors:
- In activities you are already doing on a regular basis:
- Sports your children play together
- Watching sports (Seahawks or HS games)
- A weekly play date you are already doing with other Moms/friends
- School events
- Exercise or a morning/evening walk
- Extend invites to morning coffee or a cookout at your house
- Help. Do your neighbor a favor. Help carry groceries, rake leaves, shovel snow, scrape the frost off of a windshield, help with a home improvement project.
- Write a note. Write a card, send a text or instant message, and compliment something specific you’ve noticed about your neighbor and how it’s impacted you… (Example: Your flowers are so pretty! Your gardens brighten the entire neighborhood and your hard work brings me joy every time I drive past your home!”)
- Ask to borrow some sugar! The next time you are out of a kitchen “staple” (like sugar), instead of running to the store, run over to the neighbors. Asking to borrow something is an easy way to open the door to further communication!
- Share what has happened! After the party we would love to hear how it went. When the party is over please send an email to email@example.com and let us know. If you took any pictures, please include them. If you have any stories to share, please include those, too!
Author and Bethel friend Paul Watson in his book, “Contagious Disciple Making,” encourages disciples to look specifically in their neighborhoods for what he calls a “Person of Peace.” As you begin to engage with your neighbors, pray that God would reveal a “Person of Peace” to you in your neighborhood. A “person of peace” has three primary characteristics:
- They are open to a relationship with you
- They hunger for spiritual answers for their deepest questions
- They will share whatever they learn with others
Watson gives the following example in his book, “Contagious Disciple Making.”
“So many thoughts whirled around in my head as I drove to my neighborhood Target store: ‘How can I connect with my kids better? What can I do to engage my community and find Persons of Peace? My kids are getting invited to sleepovers. How am I going to get to know their parents? My son has been pestering me to play Pokemon. I need to play with him tonight.’
Suddenly, all these thoughts came together in a single realization—I could start a Pokemon club! Starting one would make me an instant hero to my kids! Since many of their friends played the game, I would have the chance to meet them and their parents. Parents could come and talk with one another while their kids played the game. The conversations would give me a chance to look for a Person of Peace. A Pokemon club sounded like a very cool engagement activity.
But where would we meet? I didn’t want to offer my house. My wife would kill me. I traveled quite a bit and didn’t want to rope her into something she would have to keep going while I was out of the country.
When I pulled into Target, the final piece fell into place. This particular store had a large area with several tables. Families could buy Starbucks or Pizza Hut and sit down to eat. The area had about twenty tables, and they were rarely full. In fact, at 6:00pm on Saturday night, all the tables were empty. We could have our meeting there! As long as parents bought coffee or pizza, Target probably wouldn’t have any problems with us using the space. To top it off, Target sold Pokemon cards! The kids could purchase and trade cards right there! Instant win!
I ran the idea past my wife when I got home. She thought it was a great idea. I told the kids, and they got really excited. We scheduled our first meeting the following weekend. I told the kids to invite their friends.
Our first meeting was a success. Several kids and their parents showed up. Everyone had a great time. I had some great conversations with parents. Connecting faces with the stories my kids told me after school was nice.
Over the next few weeks, the Pokemon club grew. Some older kids we knew from Tae Kwan Do joined us and played a different trading card game. They invited their friends, and the club grew. They even met when I was out of town!
One week I had a good conversation with one of the dads. His son was thirteen and had had a rough week. This dad shared his frustration with me.
“Parenting isn’t easy these days,” I replied. “I don’t know how I’d do it if God didn’t give me wisdom.”
He paused for a minute, and then continued the conversation.
The Pokemon club created a great atmosphere that allowed me to have fun and to engage in casual conversations that had the potential to lead to meaningful conversations, which could lead to spiritual conversations, which then might give me the chance to identify Persons of Peace and invite them into a Discovery Study. I didn’t hand out tracts or spiritual literature. I didn’t wear t-shirts with a Christian message. Instead, I waited for appropriate opportunities to indicate that I was a spiritual person, in a safe place to have spiritual conversations. In the case of the dad and his teenage son, the casual conversation did lead to a meaningful conversation.”
Watson goes on to say, “Disciple-makers join God where He is working. The presence of a Person of Peace lets the disciple-maker know God wants him or her to engage the community deeply, that the harvest is ready. We partner with God to bring in the harvest!”
Section Five: Sharing Your Faith
The ultimate strategy of a Bethel block party is that it leads to an evangelistic conversation, which in turns leads to engagement in the local church.
Once a friendship has been built and spiritual conversations begin to occur, consider investing/inviting your neighbor(s) to specific events/ministries that will engage them deeper:
- Women’s or men’s events at Bethel
- Outreach events at Bethel
- Your small group
- Discovery Bible studies (groups of 4-6 weeks that engage around specific discipleship topics)
- Healing and Recovery ministry
- Sunday services
- Where do I get the banners, invites, and signs? Contact Ericka Ames to schedule a pick up. Banners and signs will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis and should be returned as soon as possible to the church so that others can use the banners and signs. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 509-628-0150
- How do I submit receipts? You may be reimbursed up to $75 per family in receipts. Please turn in receipts to the proper contact for your campus. For Prosser, turn your receipts in to Cindy Little. You can reach her at email@example.com. For West Pasco, turn your receipts in to Amanda August. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For Richland, turn your receipts in to Erika Ames. You can reach her at email@example.com. Receipts must be submitted within 90 days of the block party.
- What are some good resources to help me with evangelism and “neighboring”? (FYI: All of these resources are available to borrow from Local Outreach at Bethel. Contact Angie Hufford to borrow any of these materials)
- Courageous Disciple Making (Paul Watson)
- The Master Plan of Evangelism (Dr. Robert Coleman)
- Next Door as It Is in Heaven: Living out God’s Kingdom in Your Neighborhood (Lance Ford & Brad Brisco)
- The Neighboring Church - getting better at what Jesus says matters most (Rick Rusaw & Brian Mavis)
- The Art of Neighboring (Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon)
- Look online for several free resources associated with this book at: artofneighboring.com
- Consider going through the 6-week interactive small group study associated with this book
- Some FAQs from the Art of Neighboring website:
- Jesus teaches that the command to “love your neighbor” is much bigger than just loving our literal neighbors. Isn’t the focus on our actual neighbors too narrow? Clearly, the relationships that we have with our coworkers, the parents on our kids’ sports teams, and people that we encounter on the other side of the world are in fact "neighboring relationships." However, that doesn’t somehow make the person who lives across the street less of a neighbor. Often we live as if this is the case. You might be tempted to expand the focus of this initiative beyond literal neighbors. This can actually give people a loophole to avoid action and ends up diluting the power of this initiative. Most of us have good intentions about reaching out to others, but lack a clear process to do so. A singular focus on literal neighboring gives everyone a clear goal and a unified vision.
- Is this actually going to help people come to know Jesus? Yes! Most believers lack significant relationships with people who do not know God. Neighboring is the antidote for the “Christian bubble.” Especially when it’s done with the right posture. We share what we love and are passionate about with our friends. When believers form real relationships with the people who live near them, conversations about God and Jesus often follow. Along the way, it’s important to remember that people who don’t yet know God are not potential projects, they are potential friends. There is a big difference between the two!
- We already have a lot of programs in our church. How can I possibly add one more? This isn’t a stand-alone program that is going to compete with the vision of your church. In fact, raising the value of neighboring will actually enhance what your church is already doing. As the networks and social circles of your people expand, so too will the reach of your church. If you are successful in getting your people to be intentional with those their neighbors, it will create a framework that will bring life to everything else that you are doing.
- Most of our people don’t live in single-family suburban homes...will this work in my neighborhood setting? The beauty of neighboring is that it works for everyone, because everyone has neighbors. Literal neighboring works in gated communities and it works in the urban core. Yes, the dynamics are different for the person living in an apartment building versus the family that is living on a 5-acre piece of property. Thus, it is important for each leader to contextualize this message for their unique community.